an attitude of platitudes

Jesus face-planted as the church made another public statement

It will all come out in the wash.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

You’ll feel better after a nice cup of tea.

God’s in control.

These are all platitudes. Platitudes may or may not be true. But they are patronising statements that trip off our tongues almost by-passing our brains and they take on a veneer of banality because of the frequency with which they are spoken. It’s not so bad when things are going okay, but when life sucks platitudes are at best insensitive and at worst offensive.

Before you get too huffy about the fourth one above let me explain what I mean. If God was in complete control of everything he would surely not allow bad things to happen. He would have intervened when the terrorists attacked the shopping mall in Kenya. He would have stopped planes flying into the World Trade Centre. He would not allow people to be trafficked or kept in bonded labour / slavery. He would intervene in Syria and stop the bloodshed. Surely, if he is in complete control and is consistent with his character as we see it in Jesus he would not allow innocent people to suffer at the hands of evil people.

But these things happened (and keep happening). So we are left with two options: either God is not in control, or he is some sort of tyrant. I reject the latter option completely because of my experience of him, so I am left with the former. Now here is the difficulty a lot of people may be having with that. We say that God is King of the Universe (or similar). How can he not be in control?

There are plenty of monarchs, presidents and prime ministers who have been in charge, but not in complete control. Notice that difference. They are in charge, but not in control. Lawlessness still happens. People rebel against them. ‘Natural’ disasters happen that they cannot prevent. Do you see the difference?

I believe wholeheartedly that God is in charge of his world, but he is not in control because there are rebellious, malevolent forces at large (and in human hearts) that do not submit to his will.

So, back to the platitudes. When life sucks for someone, if we say ‘God is in control’ we are suggesting that it is happening because he has a purpose for it. A version is the misquote: “All things work together for good.” Friends, God is not in control. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes it’s not fair. Sometimes it’s horrible. Sometimes it makes us want to scream and shout and swear.

But that does not mean God is not sovereign: He’s a different sort of sovereign. He is not aloof and indifferent. He is with us in the midst of the pain and the suffering – feeling it with us, enduring it with us, expressing the despair with us.

God is in the chronic pain – not causing it but sharing our experience of it and experiencing the desperation it causes within us as precious prayers.

God is in the squalid rooms where children are kept as slaves for the disgusting depravity of adults – not causing the captivity but experiencing the fear, the shame, the anguish and cherishing the tears because he knows the heart of those who cry.

God was in the Twin Towers and in the planes on the 11th September 2001, feeling the impact of the explosions, sharing the terror of those who knew their deaths were imminent – not in control of the evil men who perpetrated these acts of terrorism but being with the innocent victims and feeling their desperation.

God is with those who mourn the loss of loved ones: feeling the emotional emptiness and sorrow – not because he causes death but because he knows the pain of separation from a loved one.

This sort of God is much greater than one who dictates what everyone should do and runs his Universe as some sort of computer simulation game. He is far more approachable than a god who lights the blue touch paper of life and sits back to watch. He is much more than a god who is in control – he is in charge and he is here with those who experience all that denies his rule, destroys evidence of his love, and dehumanises those whom he has created.

This is much more than a platitude, it is the reality of a God who loves and loves and loves. It is a God whose heart breaks with ours. It is a God who lived among us 2000 years ago and experienced all that evil could throw at him. It is a God whose Spirit is with us.

Let us never reduce this amazing God to platitudes. At best it’s insensitive and at worst it’s offensive.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

2 Replies to “an attitude of platitudes”

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